Tacking the steep climbs on the Fred Whitton sportive

Gearing up for the Fred Whitton sportive

By Stu Taylor

Sonder rider Stu Taylor tackles the challenges of the UKs toughest sportive the Fred Whitton. With a distance 112 mile and 10,400 ft ascent around the Lake District, starting and finishing in Grasmere it takes in the toughest Lakeland passes.

With the Fred less than a week away I really need to get a road bike sorted!

What is “The Fred”?

The Fred Whitton challenge is a sportive, with a distance 112 mile and 10,400 ft ascent around the Lake District, starting and finishing in Grasmere taking in the toughest Lakeland passes. Dubbed the “the daddy of them all” this is one of the hardest day rides in the UK.

After a busy couple of months running training and mountain biking, I was confident on my cardio fitness. The Fred this year wasn’t about racing but enjoying the ride taking in the feed stations, socialising and riding together with a good friend. From the start we the mantra was “ride together, die together” what ever happened we planned on riding and finishing together.

Group cycling during the Fred Whitton sportive

Two weeks before at Sonder HQ my Colibri was getting built and boxed ready to be sent out, delayed slightly by the bank holiday arriving a week before just in time to get a shake down ride in.

Straight of out the box (the best looking bike boxes out there!) a dark blue Colibri Al Ultegra, a very nice looking bike! I was now getting excited to ride the Fred good job it was in 4 day’s time! A quick spin out up my local fell road to check out the gearing ratio with the feared Hard Knott pass in my mind, could I clean that killer climb with 90+ miles in my legs?

For me one major aspect of the Fred is Hardknott Pass, some people jest you haven’t really done the Fred if you don’t ride HardKnott!

The Colibri Ultegra geared up with a 50-34 chainring on the front and 11-32 cassette on the back was perfect for me. If you are thinking about the doing the Fred find a steep local hill and check out your gearing ratio. If like me you want to clean all the climbs you may need to adjust your chain ring or train more!!

Race Day, the weather gods were playing ball setting of from Grasmere at 6.45am, you have a few miles on the flat to start of Kirkstone Pass, it’s easy to get caught up with the occasion at the start and blasting out these early miles, but you’ll soon pay for it. The first and longest climb of the day Kirkstone was good to get that done and a newly surfaced downhill on the other side was a chance to let the Colibri fly, thankfully the bike had disc brakes, the new tarmac was super-fast I needed to reign it in a little!

One of my favourite parts of the route, the road along the shores of Ullswater Lake is beautiful, the scenery and mountains are stunning. We made light work of this jumping on and off the back of fellow riders powering along with the biggest of smiles on our faces.

Cycling up Hard Knott on the Fred Whitton

Honister Pass the first real test of the Fred, the first tough climb, the first glimpse of riders pushing their bikes uphill. Reaching the cattle grid signals the end of the steep sections of the climb, but with still a way to go before the top of the slate mine, then it’s all downhill to the first feed station at Gatesgarth 45.6 miles in.

If you’re racing the Fred you would skip the feed stations, they are super busy with riders queuing for water refill and as much cake as they could eat. We weren’t racing so embraced the atmosphere and social side of the event chatting to fellow riders and obviously enjoying lots of cake too!

A couple of miles out of the feed station you thrown back into action, with Newlands Pass 333m, Whinlatter Pass 318m and Cold Fell 290m in the next 25 miles, summits 4,5 and 6 before reaching the well-timed Calder Bridge feed station number 2. This was a little thinner in numbers than the first and a lot more relaxed, many riders having settled into their ride or race, lots of people enjoying the rest time and soaking up some sun before venturing off to the feared final 3 climbs!

On approaching Hard Knott pass you can sense the anxiety, excitement from some riders and smell the fear in others, this is what the Fred is famous for.

Can you ride Hard Knott pass with a gradient of up to 33% and over 90 miles in your legs? there’s only one way to find out!

Almost straight away as you cross the cattle grid you can see riders littered everywhere pushing their bikes, slipping in their shoes at the same time.

Mentally you need to just ignore this and keep pedalling, challenge yourself to see how far you can make it and before you know it you’re at the crux of the climb the infamous hairpin corner, the steepest section, the lung buster, the killer, where the weak crumble, whatever you want to call it.

Spinning around the hairpin my tactic was to power and sprint this section. Previously having stayed seated and grinding it out, this time attack attack attack, up and out of the saddle, the Colibri and I joined as one.

Sprinting up and through the steepness and round the next corner passing dozens of riders, all cheering me on to make it to the summit, to which I happily obliged, disguising the burning lungs in the process and avoiding any conversation until I gathered my breath.

Summit 7 done, 8 Wrynose pass and 9 Blea Tarn left. Having just cleaned Hard Knott mentally Wrynose and Blea Tarn were done, as in theory both easier climbs but still tough, Wrynose short and steep with a long sketchy downhill to follow, then Blea Tarn. I had never ridden this, but did fail to drive up it over winter as it was too steep and slippery. It wasn’t actually too bad a very short steep section of 25% to get past then all the climbing was done. Regathering at the top of Blea Tarn race buddy and I soaked it all in for the final 10 miles back to Grasmere reflecting on a brilliant day out on the bikes, a tough day but still a brilliant day.

Riding back into the finish, the arena was packed with riders scattered about sharing stories of their ride whilst enjoying a beer in the sun, it would be rude not to so we joined them!

Throughout the race my Sonder Colibri, literally straight from the box did not skip a beat. No mechanicals, no issues, confidently and comfortably taking me around the UK's toughest sportive. What more can you ask!!

Sonder Colibri

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  • SRAM Rival AXS 12-speed groupset
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£2,899.00 £3,199.00 or from £50 /month
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  • Sonder Alpha 700c Aero UK Made wheelset

£3,299.00 £3,649.00 or from £57 /month
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